Ego is a fickle master and music is one of it’s willing minions. One of the greatest examples of this is the legal troubles that have swirled around Led Zeppelin for decades. Arguably the most successful rock band in history, inspiring millions of young musicians, Led Zeppelin has had to endure the ego trips of dozens of other musicians and/or their loved ones. It could be said that, if the band had made the same exact music and not become so popular globally, no one would be taking them to court. Ah, but that is the nature of Ego; it inspires the self-entitled victim to hire a lawyer. Ultimately, though done in the name of giving credit where credit is due, the lawsuits are about snatching a piece of the Zeppelin pie.
The current round of legal wranglings is over the band’s greatest musical triumph, Stairway to Heaven. According to some, and frankly there are similarities, an instrumental track from the California band Spirit, entitled Taurus, is where Jimmy Page got the opening riffs of Stairway to Heaven. To be fair, Taurus was recorded in 1968, two years before Page began writing the music for his rock anthem. Led Zeppelin actually opened for Spirit at their very first concert in the US, at the Denver Auditorium Arena on December 26, 1968. Spirit performed Taurus at that concert. Less than a year later, Spirit was opening for Led Zeppelin. Rock egos put aside, Spirit may have been a huge inspiration for the newly popular Led Zeppelin.
The Spirit song was written by their guitarist, Randy California. In 1966, before Spirit was formed, California played in Jimi Hendrix’s band. That is where he got the name California. Hendrix called him that to differentiate between the two Randys that were playing for him at that time. Taurus is a 2:37 pretty ditty of no real consequence. Anyone not familiar with Led Zeppelin’s music could be fooled into thinking that there is a direct lifting from Taurus to Stairway to Heaven.
Perhaps, somewhere in the back of Page’s mind, Taurus lingered. The song could very well have been subconscious inspiration for the music on Stairway to Heaven. If every musician had to give credit on each song for every other musician who inspired them, liner notes would potentially be hundreds of pages long. Any time a band goes for that old, renaissance fair or medieval minstrel sound, there are bound to be similarities.
Randy California died in 1997. He was in Hawaii with his 12 year old son when the boy got caught in a rip tide. California tried to save him and drowned in the process. A foundation was set up in his name, called the Randy California Project. In the past four years, $120,000 has been donated to school music programs in California’s name. If the jury decides that indeed Page did literally steal Taurus for Stairway to Heaven, most of the money will go to Lou Adler. A recognizable name in the music industry, Adler is the publisher of Spirit’s early work. Whatever is left would go to the Randy California Project, which is in Ventura County.
An inspired idea would be to strip the egos from this scenario and get Led Zeppelin out of the courtroom. Perhaps the band and Warner Music could be convinced to make a small concession that indeed there may have been some inspiration at work when Page wrote Stairway to Heaven. The rock giants could make a sizable donation to the Randy California Project. Egos squashed, end of story. Long live rock!
Opinion by Stacy Lamy